Jonathan Waxman

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Chef Jonathan Waxman is one of the pioneers of California cuisine. He talks about songs that have touched his soul and inspired his career, from the boundary-pushing rock of Steely Dan to the provocative soul of Marvin Gaye and a track that captures John Coltrane at his peak. Jonathan is the chef/owner of Barbuto in New York City and author of a cook book called "Italian My Way".
For More:
1.) God Only Knows- The Beach Boys
2.) Sexual Healing- Marvin Gaye
3.) Naima- John Coltrane
4.) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic- The Police
5.) Deacon Blues- Steely Dan


Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I'm here with chef Jonathan Waxman, considered one of the pioneers of California cuisine. He's currently the chef/owner of Barbuto in New York City and recently released a cookbook called "Italian My Way". Today we're going to talk to him about songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

Jonathan Waxman: Thank you Eric, great to be here.  

EJL: What's the first track you got for us?

JW: I grew up in California - in Berkeley, California. And, you know, listen I loved the Beatles. And I grew up in that time when the Beatles came out and they smashed everything. But the first time I started hearing Beach Boys songs I melted.  
And this one song that came out, that just knocked me off my feet, was called "God Only Knows". I was a musician as well, I played trombone, and was inspired to be a rock and roll player and all that nonsense, and it was the first song that was more than just a rock and roll song. It was something that sort of touched my soul a little bit, but it also was melodically really interesting and it's something that I played over and over in my head and on my stereo as many times as I could.

EJL: That was "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys as chosen by own guest DJ, chef Jonathan Waxman. You mentioned you played the trombone and there's a prominent trombone part in that song.

JW: You know, I always sort of search those things out too. I'm very partial to trombone players. (laughing)

Song: "God Only Knows" -- Beach Boys  

EJL: What's the next song you have for us?

JW: When I was in cooking school in Paris in 1976 or 1977, it's a crazy thing, but I lived in this apartment with all these models and fashion photographers for The New York Times. It was an amazing place to live, number one, and number two, going to cooking school and all the models and everything else you can imagine what the milieu was like.  
Anyway, we used to play Marvin Gaye more than we played anything else. Marvin Gaye was just something that really touched every sort of musical, emotional, sort of my home sickness for America. And Marvin Gaye, I think, has the most amazing voice I've ever heard in my life. It was one of the sad things when he died and I always felt that he wasn't even at the apogee of his career, that he was still moving up and it's something that's very near and dear to me.

Song: Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye

EJL: Why that Particular Marvin Gaye song?

JW:  You know, I think it was radical in its outlook. It was provocative, but it was also melodically and rhythmically ahead of it's time. It's just amazing when you hear it over and over again, it sounds just as fresh today as it was then.

EJL: That sort "sensuality", does that play into your cooking at all?

JW: A 100%. I think that cooking and music are so synonymous. I always say as a musician you do things repetitively. Cooking is exactly the same thing. You're giving something to people and I always felt that Marvin Gaye sort of gave himself to his audience…to me! I felt that he personally touched me when he sang that song. There's a lot of things about religion, there's a lot of things about sex, obviously, and he sort of helped me think about life in a really sort of germane way.

EJL: What's the next track you got for us?

JW: You know, I was a trombone player and that's all I wanted to do when I was in high school. I got a music scholarship to go to University of Nevada at Reno and I played in all these different kind of groups. My best friend, Tim Strandberg, was a Saxophone player and he incessantly played John Coltrane. But there was one track, “Naima”, which was written for his wife in 1959 which is this ballad, which I think, is probably one of the most lyrically beautiful ballads ever written. John Coltrane was at his peak at that point. He played better than anybody in the world. I don't think anyone in the world would really challenge me on that. It's something that you can never stop listening to. It transports you someplace else.

Song: “Naima” – John Coltrane

JW: It's hard to describe jazz. In any case, I always feel at a loss for words but I think listening to this song captures the essence of what jazz was in that time -- late 50's early 60's -- but what it meant to me when I was going to school in the late 60's and early 70's.

EJL: That was “Naima” by John Coltrane as selected by our guest, Jonathan Waxman.  
Do you feel like there's something that works with music pairings, like you would with food and wine and such?

JW: I think music is so misunderstood in terms of how food is on the plate. My wife always yells at me that I'm playing too much rock and roll when I'm prepping food for dinner on Sunday night. I say, ‘Well, you know, honey, it inspires me’. I love going to restaurants which get it right and it's rare that it ever happens. You walk into a place and the music and the food are just perfect together.

EJL: What's the next track you got for us?

JW: It's “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”. When The Police first came out I was blown away. I said this has got to be the most fun rock and roll band that's ever existed. I had a Ferrari for a while, in Europe. And my best friend and I took my Ferrari and drove it from London all over France and we ate all over France and we just got into lots of adventures. We had really had a great time. And we had bought that one cd and this is the one song that really I wanted to play all the time. And I was a little bit going through a bit of a transition in my life. I was leaving Michael's in Los Angeles as the head chef and I was moving to New York and I had no idea what my future was going to be and I was in this relationship that really wasn't happening. I was feeling torn and this song really kind of summed up a little bit how I felt about her and what I kind of felt about what was going on. It was one of those kind of songs that really kind of spoke to me in a very clear fashion.

Song: “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” – The Police  

EJL: That was The Police with “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” as selected by our guest, chef Johnathan Waxman. What's the next song you've got for us?

JW: “Deacon Blues” from Walter Becker and Donald Fagan. This one song goes back a little bit to my playing music days. It talks a little bit about the emotions of what LA was like when I was a chef there, in the late 70's. It never left me in terms of the crash and burn thing about rock and roll, about food, about pushing yourself to the nth degree.
The saxophone player in this is Pete Chrissley, who was on the Johnny Carson band, and was a famous saxophone player who I just adored and he was a drag car racer, and that's was this song partially is about.  
There's something about that -- pushing yourself to the limit. About pushing your music. Pushing your food. It made me, as a chef, realize that if I didn't push myself at every juncture, if I didn't feel there was something in me, it was like looking at my inner fire and trying to get it out, then I wasn't true to myself as a cook.  
I think every musician would say the same thing -- that when you perform, you owe it to yourself and your audience to play at your peak.  

Song: Deacon Blues – Steely Dan

JW: Steely Dan just hits that cord with me always, in every one of their albums. I remember going to see them live and watching Walter Becker's face. When he plays it's almost like he's taken away all the extraneous notes and he plays just what he wants to play.  
And I think that is just the way I want to do food. Simple, straightforward, cut away all of the nonsense.

EJL: Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us here on KCRW.COM

JW: You're welcome.

EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs on line go to KCRW.COM/GUEST DJ PROJECT and subscribe to the podcast through i-tunes.